Thursday, November 29, 2018

Splitting Hairs and Hatching Plots

“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.” - Luke 6:7

John Hyde was a missionary to India in the 1800s, and he really frustrated other Christians. It wasn’t because his theology was off, or because of a poor attitude. He frustrated them because he had a bad habit of showing up late.

You see, John Hyde was a true prayer warrior—so much so that he earned the nickname “Praying Hyde.” Before he spoke at a worship service or at an evangelistic crusade, he would be on his face before the Lord in prayer … sometimes for hours. He wasn’t about to go up and teach God’s word until he was convinced in his heart that God had released him from his time of prayer. On more than one occasion he refused to stop praying when it was time for him to speak. As you might guess, this didn’t go over well with his fellow missionaries, who had to stall until he was done praying.

Well, the frustration John Hyde’s fellow ministers felt with his methods gave them just a small taste of the frustration the Pharisees and teachers of the law felt over Jesus’ methods. They started off by accusing Jesus of breaking Jewish law by forgiving sins, dining with sinners and eating on designated fasting days. But he was only breaking the manmade oral traditions which had been added onto God’s laws over the past few hundred years. Jesus made it clear that he didn’t give a flying fig about their manmade rules and traditions. And that really chapped their hides.

So, the Pharisees and teachers of the law decided to step up their game. They were bound and determined to catch Jesus in the act of breaking one of God’s Old Testament laws. At the beginning of Luke 6, they started by accusing Jesus’ followers of working on the Sabbath by eating kernels of grain as they walked through a field. The hundreds of oral tradition laws related to the Sabbath said that “work” included reaping, winnowing and preparing food. So, when Jesus’ followers were pulling the heads of grain off the stem, the Pharisees considered that “reaping.” When they rubbed the heads of grain in their hands to separate the chaff, that was “winnowing.” And when they tossed the kernels into their mouths, the Pharisees could say, “A-HA!! You’re preparing food!” But Jesus let his critics know that it would not be right for his followers to go hungry by splitting hairs about what did and didn’t constitute work on the Sabbath Day.

On another Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, and there was a man there whose right hand was shriveled. Jesus knew in his spirit that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were wondering whether or not Jesus would heal this man’s hand on the Sabbath Day. In verse 7, we read that they were watching Jesus closely, “looking for a reason to accuse [him].” The oral traditions regarding healing on the Sabbath were very clear: it had to be a life-threatening injury. If Jesus healed this man’s shriveled hand, his opponents believed they could make a strong case that Jesus was breaking the Old Testament laws about working on the Sabbath, because clearly a shriveled hand was not a life-threatening malady.

Well, Jesus must have figured if he was going to heal the man, he might as well do it in front of everyone and teach an important lesson in the process. After calling the man forward to stand in plain view of everyone, Jesus asked the crowd—particularly the Pharisees and teachers of the law—“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (v. 9). This question must have infuriated Jesus’ critics. They had a question they wanted Jesus to answer, but this wasn’t the question!

But Jesus had delivered a pre-emptive strike. Obviously there was no possible way for the Pharisees to answer his question in the negative. They were forced to agree that the Sabbath was a day for doing what was “good” and for “saving life.” And you’d better believe they felt backed into a corner and hated every moment of it. So, Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand, and immediately the hand was “completely restored” (v. 10). At that point, we’re told in verse 11, the Pharisees and teachers of the law “were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” For the first time, Jesus’ critics put every option on the table. And one of those options was to kill him. At this point, it was one of several options—but before too long, they would see killing Jesus as the ONLY option.

We look at the Pharisees today and shake our heads at how wrong they were. But while we (hopefully) don’t plot to murder those we disagree with, how often do we ourselves miss the true meaning of God’s word for us? In the words of theologian William Barclay, “They came to Scripture not to learn God’s will but to find proof texts to buttress up their own ideas…. When we read Scripture we must say, not, ‘Listen, Lord, for Thy servant is speaking,’ but ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant is listening.”

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit and join us for church Sundays at 10 a.m.

No comments:

Post a Comment